Buffy Sainte-Marie

Singer-songwriter, humanitarian, Indigenous leader

Singer-songwriter, composer, educator, philanthropist, social activist, actor, educator, visual artist, and digital pioneer Buffy Sainte-Marie has been an unwavering advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms for more than 50 years.

What does belonging mean to you?
Belonging means being comfortable inside the group and confident when outside of it. I think they’re both very important.

Why does belonging matter in today’s world?
As a long-time lover of solitude, feeling obligated to belong would be just as bad. Real freedom lets you choose every day but only if your own choice is welcomed.

When have you most felt like you belonged?
Oh, that just put a smile on my face! At a powwow during an Intertribal and everybody’s dancing. An Intertribal is a song for which anybody and everybody is invited to dance: the audience, and all styles, whether you’ve dressed up or not and it’s very informal and a lot of fun and everybody belongs. I love it.

What is the single biggest threat to building a belonging society?
The inflexibility that comes from a lack of exposure to good information resulting in a general lack of understanding on either side. But see, I think we can fix it. I don’t think it’s that hard to do and I think it can be a lot of fun! Multicultural sharing of food, sports and science and art and films and music and dance and cool new stuff and new friendships and good vibes — we have all the things to be proud of. Look what Gord Downie did with his life. To reach across that huge gulf from Chanie Wenjack to Gord’s huge hockey-player audience, who are not very much exposed to Indigenous issues or to my kind of music. He closed that particular gap. And it’s wonderful for both sides!

What one change could we make as a society to improve belonging?
I think we need to make it hip. ‘Til you make something hip, no one wants to do it. Make it hip to abandon the pecking order. Break the cycle of bullying, in your own life, work, school and family.

What one thing can each of us do, right now, to foster belonging?
It sounds kind of general but I really mean it specifically: look at people in a new way. You know I really agree with the Dali Lama when he says that we carry the biggest tool for peace with us all the time, and that’s our smile. I’m in airports among strangers so often and sometimes just catching somebody’s eye and seeing a little bit of peace and encouragement right there, you know it doesn’t have to be a big grin. You just connect with people. It’s an opportunity to give.